Five Things To Do Before You File For Divorce or Legal Separation

Photo by Whatwolf -

Photo by Whatwolf -

If you are either thinking about filing, or suspect that your spouse may be preparing to file for divorce or legal separation, there are some steps you can take ahead of time to protect yourself.

Gather important financial documents. 

Divorce cases depend heavily on documentation.  If you have access to the following documents, make copies of them:

  • Past five years of tax returns, with all schedules and attachments.  If you or your spouse are owners or part owners of any businesses that files a corporate tax return, collect these as well.

  • Paystubs for the past year for both spouses.

  • Bank statements for the past year from all bank accounts, including checking, savings, investment, and retirement.  If you have aces to these statements on line, print them out.

  • Life insurance policies and statements.

  • Any written agreements you may have with your spouse, such as prenuptial and postnuptial agreements and community property agreements.

  • Credit card statements, mortgage statements, and other loan statements for the past year.

  • Any stock options/restricted stock units vesting schedules.

Do not worry if you may not have access to all of these documents – your attorney will be able to obtain them later in discovery.  But it helps to have these documents ready when you go see your attorney for the first time, in order for them to get an understanding of your financial situation, and to effectively work on your temporary financial orders. 

Open a credit card and a bank account in your name alone. 

If you do not have a sufficient credit history, it may be a good idea to open 1-2 credit cards in your name alone and use them for several months before filing to create a credit history.  Make sure to make all monthly payments on time to maintain a good credit score.

While all wages earned prior to the date of separation are community property, it is a good idea to open a bank account in your name alone so that you can deposit your post-separation paycheck there.  You will also deposit any maintenance and child support payments into that individual account.  It is a good idea to open that account in a bank where you and your spouse do not have any other accounts, to make sure your spouse does not get access to that account on line. 

Change your passwords.

Change passwords on all of your online accounts.  A lot of spouses know the other’s passwords, login credentials, and answers to security questions. Changing your passwords can be a pain, but it will help protect your privacy, as well as set boundaries. 

Fill out a Financial Declaration. 

A Financial Declaration is a mandatory document required by the court in any divorce or legal separation.  It can be found and downloaded on the Washington Courts web site.  A Financial Declaration is essentially a budgeting tool – it requires you to list all of your income and all of your expenses.  When you fill out your financial declaration, you should imagine that you are already separated, live on your own, and have your own expenses.  A Financial Declaration will help determine if you will have any income left after payment of taxes and all of the necessities, or how much shortfall you will have.  A Financial Declaration is used to determine whether you or your spouse will receive any spousal support.

Retain a good attorney.

It is wise to interview more than one attorney before you decide to file for divorce. 

If you have any questions about the steps to take while you are preparing for a divorce filing, make an appointment with an attorney to go over these and other steps that may be appropriate in your unique situation.